Sayings of the Fathers, Prologue (cont’d)

Here is the continuation and end of the Prologue to the Apophthegmata Patrum, alphabetical series, which I was too tired to finish last night. You’ll note that the fifth century editor who wrote the prologue mentions that he has separated out the anonymous sayings and compiled them separately after the alphabetical collection. This is very likely a reference to the less well-known Apophthegmata Patrum, anonymous collection. I am not translating that collection here. In any case, we owe this editor our thanks for having arranged the saying under the name of each of the various Fathers, and further collecting these chapters based on names under each of the appropriate letters of the alphabet. The collection was formerly no doubt quite a chaotic one. Enjoy.


But since a narrative by many authors is confused and disorderly, producing a certain confusion in the thought of the reader, the mind is not able to comprehend the multiple scatterings in the book. For this reason we have re-arranged it under a listing of letters, the order of which is better for clear and easy comprehension for those wishing to produce advantage. So, whatever is about Abba Anthony, Arsenios, or of Agathon, and those whose names begin with Alpha [are listed under Alpha. Basil, Bisa]rion and Benjamin are under Beta, and so on up through Omega. And since there are also other sayings and acts of the holy elders for which the names of those who spoke or did them do not appear, we have separated these into chapters after the the completion of those according to the letters. We have sought and found as many books as we were able to find, listing them at the end of the chapters, so that collecting from all of them the help of the Spirit, and delighting in the sayings of the Fathers, sweeter than honey and the honeycomb [Ps 18.11 LXX], and conducting ourselves properly in the calling with which God has called us, we may come to His Kingdom. Amen.

Berkeley WECSOR, anyone?

In a few weeks, on March 25 and 26 to be exact, the Western Commission for the Study of Religion, affectionately known as WECSOR, will be held here in Berkeley, mere blocks from my home at the Bade Museum of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. That school has a particularly nice lawn that yours truly may at times be found enjoying during the high summer, with iced coffee(s) and book(s).

So, if any readers are coming to Berkeley for this little conference, please do let me know. I’m thinking to arrange a little evening to-do, perhaps at my favorite watering-hole in town, Jupiter, with its extensive menu of grub and grog. Hopefully it’ll be dry so we can sit out in the courtyard, with its fiery fountain! Certainly I’ll have to show my guests the two best bookstores in town, and we could certainly enjoy some of the local eateries during lunch.

So, let me know if you’re coming, either by email or comment here. It’d certainly be nice to meet folks in person.

UPDATE: Gracious! Up until I heard the acronym spoken aloud today, I had heard and read “WESCOR” and typed it so above, which I’ve since corrected. How odd. I can’t remember that ever having happened before. Age, I suppose.

The Apophthegmata Patrum

For Lent this year, I am translating the Apophthegmata Patrum, the Sayings of the Fathers, the alphabetical series, best known these days through Sr Benedicta Ward’s excellent translation in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

The text I’m using is the same base text that she used, that of Migne PG 65:71-440, as found in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG catalog no. 2742-001), both of which come from manuscript Paris Gr.1599. Sr Benedicta’s translator notes in the beginning of her volume mention that she also utilized P. Guy’s Recherches sur la Tradition Greque des Apophthegmata Patrum, which corrects and supplements the manuscript in several places. I don’t intend to include the extra sayings in Guy unless it turns out that such are numerous, and/or the text hideously corrupt.

I will make no excuses for mistakes, and would rather appreciate to have them called to my attention when they occur. I am going to try to be a bit more paraphrastic in this translation than I was in my rather literal translations of Jerome’s Prologues to the Vulgate, not least because I do want to finish the entire work during Lent, and so intend not to spend days agonizing over how best to render a particular phrase literally (oh yes, reader, indeed I did!). For this reason, I won’t be as focused on maintaining a vocabulary equivalence. You will see, for instance, the extremely common ασκησις and related words rendered in a variety of ways,
depending on the context: “ascetic struggle,” “ascetic feat,” “struggle,” and so on. I trust it will make good reading. I’ll use the numbers of the various sayings included in the text, rather than the Migne and TLG column and line numbers. This will make it easier for readers to compare my translation to Sr Benedicta’s. Hopefully all will be edified in the process.

I dearly love the translation by Sr Benedicta Ward of the Apophthegmata Patrum alphabetical series. I’ve gained much from it. This is as much a tribute to her work, an imitation in gratitude if not flattery, as an educational experience and a kind of ascetic endeavor on my own part. As I fast, I feast. As I translate, I expect to learn these sayings better than I ever have before, and to enjoy a taste of the desert. For those who are sympathetic, I crave your prayers.

So, we begin with the prologue.


In this book is written an account of the virtuous ascetic struggle, amazing life, and sayings of the holy and blessed Fathers, for the emulation and instruction and imitation of those wishing to establish a heavenly citizenship, and those wanting to progress in travelling the Way to the Kingdom of Heaven. You must know that the holy Fathers, who were zealous followers and instructors of the blessed life of the monks, entirely aflame with divine and heavenly love, counting as nothing all that among men is beautiful and valued, endeavoured to do nothing at all for display, but escaping notice, and keeping most of their virtuous deeds hidden through their great humility, thus travelled along the Way toward God. Thus no one has been able to outline exactly for us this virtuous life, for those who have done the most work concerning these have handed down in writing only a few of some of their virtuous words and deeds, not so as to gain favour for them, but they were eager to stir up those in the future to eager imitation. Thus many at various times have set forth these sayings and virtuous deeds of the holy elders in the form of tales, in a simple and unadorned style, for in this they saw only to help many.

(to be continued)